Saturday, September 30, 2006

CHILDREN OF MEN - dystopia is now

You see the flesh of Eve that man since Adam has profaned. That body was meant for begettin' children. It was not meant for the lust of men! Do you want more children, Willa? There's a road about five minutes walk from where I live in Central London. I worked there for around four years and I still walk down it most days. In the opening scene of CHILDREN OF MEN, a crumpled, aggrieved Clive Owen walks out onto that street with a cup of coffee in his hand. A bomb goes off shattering the shop front. Clive Owen ducks for cover and then continues on his journey, haltingly. Because in the London of 2027 our fears (and memories, those of us who remember the IRA) are realised: terrorist attacks are commonplace. It is a world where humans have become infertile and the youngest person alive is eighteen. Civil order has broken down around the world and Britain is the last nation still standing. Or rather crouching with its hands over its face as a fascist policeman brings down the boot.

It's amazing just how easy it is to make contemporary London on a wet November afternoon look like P.D. James dystopian future. The crumbling Victorian infrastructure, the half-light and perpetual drizzle, the uncollected rubbish and weary indifference to increasing numbers of armed rozzers. The genius of this movie is not to over-do the differences but insist on the similarities. The incidental cultural references are the same as now - the 2012 Olympics is an icon of the past not the future, but the music, dress and language are the same. When the world's youngest boy is killed, people still have lunatic outpouring of grief, Diana-stylee, and the English sense of humour is still alive and kicking. In fact, this movie, while intelligent and frightening, is also really rather funny. Reassuringly, "Britishly" funny. Now and then though, we are caught off guard by an image that is horrifying because it comes straight from our tele-visual memory. From news footage and documentaries of the Holocaust or the Bosnian war.

In a movie like CHILDREN OF MEN the key task for the film-maker is to create a world which is at once alien and believable. Director, Alfonso CuarĂ³n and cinematographer,
Emmanuel Lubezki succeed by a long chalk. But the movie really works because it creates a series of memorable and believable characters thanks to some brilliant writing and top-notch performances from all the cast. The plot hinges on Clive Owen's character - Theo. He is kidnapped by his ex-wife, Julian, played by Julianne Moore, and asked to help take a miraculously pregnant woman (Claire Hope-Ashitey) out of England and to safety. In this, he is aided by two ageing hippies, played by Michael Caine and Pam Ferris - arguably their best performances on film. The supporting cast is also first class, featuring the ubiquitous Chiwetel Ejiofor as a terrorist and an intense cameo performance from an unrecognisable Charlie Hunnam (that's the blonde teen from QUEER AS FOLK to you and me.) Danny Huston is absolutely chilling as the pragmatic aesthete who sits among his art drinking fine wine while England burns. Among such an accomplished cast it is hard to single out the scene stealer, but it is probably Peter Mullan who takes the biscuit with his darkly comic portrayal of the weed-dealing bent copper, Syd.

I could go on about how superb I think this film is - visually, intellectually, comedically (of all things!) Of course, there are some quibbles. The religious imagery is laid on sporadically thick - especially with the naming of characters and one rather cloying scene near the end. But I think this is a small price to pay for a rare piece of film-making that gets the brain whirring and the pulse racing.

CHILDREN OF MEN is on release in Ireland and the UK. It opens in Japan, Belgium, France, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Finland in October. It opens in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Brazil, Estonia, Chile, Croatia, Italy, Romania, Turkey, Singapore and Mexico in November. It finally rolls into Sweden and the US in December.

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